Friday, July 27, 2012

Fifty Shade of Grey. And Life Imitates Freedom.

Writing News.

I have been catching up on my newspaper reading and I have read some interesting articles relevant to writing and books.

Shades of Twilight.

A few blog posts ago, I postulated that based on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, publishers would now be bracing themselves for an influx of erotic manuscripts. I thought that this rush of erotica might make up for publishers having to wade through thousands of Twilight like manuscripts about vampires who couldn’t  bring themselves to have sex with their human girlfriends.

Little did I know, Fifty Shades of Grey grew out of Twilight fan fiction. I only found out about this link between the two series of books when reading an article in the AGE by Helen Razer.  It seems the author of Fifty Shades of Grey really wanted the vampire to impose his manhood on Belle.

As a result of expected Fifty Shades of Grey fan fiction wanted the female character to be more assertive, I predict the next big flood of manuscripts will be about witches using there charms to turn their werewolf boyfriends into obedient lap dogs.

Speaking of Awful Sex Scenes.

If like me your brain becomes impotent at the thought of writing a sex scene, it seems we are not alone. In an article titled The earth doesn’t move for men writing sex scenes, Jojo Moyes suggests that blokes have a real disadvantage writing sex scenes as they tend to forget about all their bedroom failures. Woman are supposedly better at writing sex scenes because they are more sincere.

In the article Martin Amis is quoted saying “sex is almost impossible to write about and no one has done it very well”.  It seems that most writers acknowledge this as they close the door on their characters sexual antics and leave it to the reader to imagine what gymnastics the characters performed.

Freedom to Sell-out.

I recently read Freedom, by Jonathon Frazen, and found one particular character stretched credibility. The character was a radical environmentalist, who wanted to save a particular species of bird, the warbler, by creating nature reserves for it throughout the US. In order to do this he made a deal with a mining company that allowed them to mine a section of forest that they said would be  rehabilitate as a nature reserve for the warbler. The character did eventually wake up to his delusions.

But last week I read an article about an Australian environmentalist, Dorjee Sun, who seems to suffer from similar, but real life, delusions to the character in Frazen’s novel. In May last year Sun sold half his share in a big area of forest to a mining company who plan to mine its $5 billion worth of gold. Sun says he sold it to the miners in the hope they would preserve some of the forest around the mine. Unlike the character in the book, Sun got $700,000 plus $3,000,000 worth of shares. If I was delusional enough to accept Sun’s explanation, Frazen’s character would have a little more credibility. Perhaps Sun read Freedom before coming up with his reason for selling the land to the mining company.  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Australian History in Schools and Books.

Australian History in Schools

There has been a bit of debate in the media lately about the teaching of Australian history in schools. I wish Australian History had been taught when I was in school in the 70’s. All I remember being forced to study was ancient Greek history in high-school. It not only bored me - I spent most of my time inking in text book illustration - but seemed totally irrelevant. But Australian history is another matter.

My interest in Australia’s history grew out of a trip around Australia when I was fifteen. On the trip I found out that Alice Springs was named after a telegraph station built beside a spring. I learnt the history of the Flying Doctors. I saw the harsh conditions that convicts were jailed in at Port Arthur.

I learnt that dinosaurs had once inhabited Australia when I saw dinosaur footprints at Broome. An Aboriginal ranger told us about their customs at Ayers Rock (as it was called then). I learnt that whales used to be caught off Albany on the West Australian coast. All fascinating stuff to me, but none of this was taught to me at school.

It seems like Australian politicians and educators were too ashamed of our nation’s skeletons to teach our history. Perhaps they still are.

Australian History in Books

My interest in Australian history blossomed when I decided to see what Australian literature was all about. I found Australian authors seemed to be preoccupied with novels set in historical times. I have read novels like Power Without Glory by Frank Hardy, The True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, and Voss by Patrick White.

I have also read non-fiction books like Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore, a book about Australia’s convict history. It dispels any thought that Australia was settled for any other reason than to dump England’s poor.  As I live a few kilometres from Glenrowan, I am very interested in Ned Kelly and I have read books on him and his family such as Ellen Kelly, by Dagmar Balcarek. 

I have also read books about our more recent history like The Secret Country by John Pilger. It shows the role the Australian media has played in trying to keep Australia racist.   

I am not a great reader of biographies, but the ones I have read are usually about Australians. The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer, by Paul Barry, told me a lot about the history of our media.  

And then there is the history of Australian Literature. I used to haunt second hand book shops in search of Australian science fiction. I found collections like Portable Australian Authors –Australian Science Fiction edited by Van Ikin, which has Australian science fiction stories starting from way back in 1845. 

I am currently reading the mammoth Macquarie Pen Anthology of Australian Literature, a book full of two hundred years of skeletons. 

I am all for Australian History being taught in schools in all its uncensored glory.  Tell it like it was, not as you, me, Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott or Christine Milne would have liked it to have been.  Oh, and I still have no interest in ancient Greece.      

Friday, July 13, 2012

Review of George Turner's A Pursuit of Miracles

A Pursuit of Miracles is a fabulously entertaining and thought provoking collection of science fiction short stories. It maintains the exceptionally high standards of George Turner’s many novels. Turner is arguably Australia’s best ever science fiction writer and this collection shows why. 

There are only eight stories in the collections 207 pages, so they are mostly long stories. All but one of Turner’s nine published short stories are in the collection. Turner preferred to write novels. Indeed, at least two of the stories in this collection were later turned into novels.

Turner was obviously a proud Australian as most of the stories are set in a future Australia. He seemed to be fascinated with telepathy which is the main theme, or in the background, of a number of the stories. Turner also seemed very much concerned with humanity’s destruction of the environment. The collection was published in 1990 and the stories have not dated.     

The collection begins with the title story A Pursuit of Miracles. It’s a story that snuck on me as I wondered about the emotional intelligence of the scientists involved. It is set in a world were very few animals live. In a research lab, scientists are attempting to see if the animals that remain can be controlled by telepathy. But one of the co-workers, a damaged clone, shows that empathy with animals would have been a much better option to explore.

The second story, Not in Front of the Children, is a story about arrogance and ignorance. A privileged teenage girl, who lives in a world were aging has been slowed, rebels against her parents as she tries to discover what death is.  

Feedback is a rather strange story, with a very unexpected and weird ending. A hypnotist and a telepath are brought together by a rich pastoralist on an outback property. The pastoralist believes that together they might be able to enter his mind and go back to the beginning of creation. This experiment is watched over by a solipsistic cultist who believes that the universe is his own imagined creation.  

Shut the Door When You Go Out later became the brilliant novel Genetic Soldier. It is one of the shorter pieces in the collection and is set thousands of years into the future. Most of humanity had deserted Earth, leaving it to its former indigenous tribes. A ship returns, its crew wanting to resettle what used to be Australia. But this time, the genetically altered Aborigines, object to be colonised.

In On the Nursery Floor a reporter tries to find out what happened at a laboratory years earlier.  The laboratory was used to genetic engineer super intelligent children, who escaped. The reporter tries to track them down.

In the Petri Dish Upstairs an orbiting community sends the “perfect” man down to earth to marry a rich heiress. He takes her back to his community’s huge space station that collects solar power and transmits it to an earth they no longer feel part of and are sick of being subservient too.

The collection finishes with The Fittest, which is the best story of the collection. It is set in a Melbourne slowly being inundated by the sea. Society is split into the Sweet, the 10% of people who have jobs, and the Swill, the 90% who survive on government handouts.The story revolves around a sweet family whose father loses his job, forcing them to move to the swill’s slums. But one child is brilliant with numbers, a talent that makes him valuable to those who don’t want to leave records on computers. The Fittest later became The Sea and Summer, which is the best Australian science fiction novel I have read. It was nominated for a Nebula Award and won that years Arthur C. Clarke award. 

A Pursuit of Miracles is an extremely strong collection that would appeal to most readers of science fiction. If you are an Australian science fiction reader, you simply have to read it and discover how good Australian science fiction can be.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What is a Disability. Critiquing a Book. Science Fiction on Television.

New Article on DiVine

When researching an article on the definition of what a disability is I came across the surprisingly large statistic that one in five Victorians have a disability. That’s a million Victorians with disabilities. I did find it hard to believe, but the more research I did  the more disabilities I uncovered. My article “What is a Disability?” went up on the DiVine website yesterday. 


I have just finished critiquing a non-fiction book on a friend’s marathon running feats. It details his journey from an unfit and unwell person to someone who ran many marathons and then ran up a mountain. Along the way he raised a lot of money for charity. It is very inspirational and taught me a lot, especially why marathon runners never look that happy when running.

The book was about 120,000 words and took me a few months to critique. This is the third full length book I have critiqued. One of them, Datura Highway, by Daniel King has been published. I am very much hoping marathon runner Chris Pavey’s book also gets published. 

Science Fiction I Have Been Watching.

I just finished watching the last episode of Caprica, which was cancelled after its first season. What a shame. Caprica was a prequel to Battlestar Galactica and basically tells the story of who developed the cylons and why they went to war against humanity. The series took some patience to get into, unlike Battlestar which had the excellent hook of humanity being all but devastated at its start.

At the end of the last episode of Caprica it had ten minutes of what they hoped would occur in the next season. It showed such things as how and why the “skin jobs” where created and how the cylons became religious. It looked very interesting and entertaining, but it was not to be. The series was cancelled and science fiction lost a potential classic.

I have also been watching Regenesis on FX on Foxtel. It’s a low budget Canadian series that is set in their version of the CDC. It has a continual story line which began with terrorists releasing an ebola type plague. In episode three, the last episode I watched, someone claimed to have cloned Jesus Christ. That story line has all sorts of possibilities. How will churches react? What if the clone decides to be a Buddhist? I am looking forward to watching more.

My Novel Manuscript.

I have just started chapter forty-seven of Jack Logan, Astronaut. I have written 93,450 words and still have another 30,000 words to go at least. At the moment I am thinking I will be cutting a lot of words from the earlier chapters. Although they are full of intrigue as the main character tries to cope with his new surroundings, they lack some of the tension of the later chapters.    

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Fifty Shade of Bad Writing. George Turner's Books to be Reissued.

Fifty Shades of Bad Writing.

Seems everywhere I look someone has written an article about the mega-selling, publishing-game-changing, super- duper, must-read-before-you die (or at least dis) Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

As a result, I am sure publishers are looking forward to reading thousands of manuscripts full of badly written bondage scenes. Publisher’s assistants will all be rushing home to watch porn on the web to get sex back into some sort of normal perspective. But then again, the flood of bad erotica might make up for those manuscripts full of teenagers in love with vampires who refuse to give out.   

Many of the articles I have read about Fifty Shades of Grey have been about how badly written it is.  An article I read in the Age today about its awfully written sex scenes made me laugh, especially its imagined ocker sex scene.

There was even an article about the book in today’s Chronicle, the local newspaper. Fifty Shades has been selling very well locally. With one farmer reportedly buying it because he wanted to see what all the hype was about (very sad). An elderly woman who returned it to the library said it was just porn and rubbish – WTF did she expect?

I have also read a few reviews on Goodreads and other sites of Fifty Shades that have said it is badly written. But this badly written book is allegedly making the author 1.36 million a week. There seems to be one supposedly well hung ram leading a huge flock of erotically hopeful ewes.

George Turner’s Books to be Reissued.

In my last post I mentioned having just read A Pursuit of Miracles, by George Turner. Bruce Richard Gillespie commented on that post on facebook saying he had control over the books of George Turner. He said that there are plans for Gollancz to bring out a new version of Turner’s The Sea and Summer, so you will all have the chance to go out and buy the best Australian science fiction novel ever written.

Bruce also said he was trying to get Turner’s other novels out as ebooks, which I would very much welcome as I am still to obtain copies of Beloved Son, Transit of Cassidy, Vaneglory, Yesterday's Men, and Down There in Darkness.
If you want to read some of the many articles Turner wrote on writing and science fiction, issue 76 of SF Commentary, edited by Bruce Gillespie, has 100,000 words devoted to the writing of George Turner. 

Turned started off writing non-genre mainstream novels in the late 1950’s. He won a Miles Franklin award in 1962 for The Cupboard Under the Stairs. The Lame Dog Man won the Commonwealth Literary Fund Award in 1967. Turner quit writing after five mainstream novels because there wasn’t any money in it. 

I have read that he was asked to review science fiction for a magazine. Which he did. He thought that he could write better science fiction than what he was reviewing. Which he went on and did. The above mentioned The Sea and Summer was nominated for the Nebula Award and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in1988.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Writing Week: Issue 26, Year 5

Turning Short Stories into Novels.

It seems I am not the only writer with an inability to keep a short-story short. I have just finished reading Aussie science fiction legend George Turner’s collection of longish short- stories A Pursuit of Miracles. The book’s 207 pages contain only eight stories, most of them novella length, three of which Turner later turned into novels. One of the stories went on to become Genetic Soldiers, which I mentioned in my last post. Another became his Arthur C. Clarke award winner The Sea and Summer

One of the two novel manuscripts I have written started off as a novella. Recently I managed to keep a short story to 7,000 words, but my previous attempt blew out to 15,000 words. I think part of the difficulty with writing short science fiction stories is creating a compelling world within limited words. When I critiqued stories on I was always asking for more detail about the world a writer was attempting to create.

The brilliant collection The Locus Awards – Thirty Years of the Best in Fantasy and Science Fiction - has only 18 stories, most of them novella length, in its 674 pages.  In contrast I have lost interest in magazines that are full of 2,000 – 5,000 word stories.

New Divine Articles.

I have been busy this week writing  an article for Divine Magazine. It is about how various organisations define disability. It required a far bit of research of a pretty dry subject. I have been trying to figure out how to write it in an interesting and enjoyable way. I am not sure whether I have succeeded with the draft I completed on Thursday.  

Meanwhile, the editor of Divine is happy with my next two ideas for articles. And happily for me, both will involve minimal research, as one is a review of a book that I have already read and the other is from personal experience.


Regenesis, a new to Australia science fiction series, started on FX on Foxtel last week.  I thought its writers must have watched the movie Contagion as the opening of the first episode mirrored the movie’s enthralling opening sequence showing how easily a virus can be spread. But when I checked, Regenesis went to air in 2004, well before Contagion was made. Regenesis is set in a Canadian bio-terrorism unit. Four seasons of the series were made.

Falling Skies is Improving.

I have been wondering whether the writers of Falling Skies have been watching the brilliant zombie series The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead is notable for the absence of gung-ho characters and rebellious teenagers. I think its writers reckon that such foolish characters would quickly be killed by zombies. In the last episode of Falling Skies screened on Foxtel, one teenager died and one gung-ho character, whose antics invited death, was expelled from the group of survivors.